Axios is the epitome of a smart modern media brand

Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen have quickly established their latest media venture as a must-read alternative to mainstream media.

Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen from Axios talk to Edelman corporate affairs EVP Sean Neary.
Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen from Axios talk to Edelman corporate affairs EVP Sean Neary.

I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating panel discussion this week organized by Edelman and featuring Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei from Axios.

Axios CEO VandeHei is a former White House reporter for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. VandeHei left the Post and set up Politico in 2007 with John Harris. Allen was their first hire.

VandeHei became CEO of Politico in 2013 and by the time of the 2016 U.S. election the media outlet employed 500 people.

After that election, 18 months ago, Allen and VandeHei left Politico to co-found Axios and quickly built it into a vibrant media company designed for 21st century consumption habits, currently staffed by around 120 employees.

The new outlet’s philosophy is straightforward and simple: What’s new and why does it matter? Its delivery is perfectly suited to the mobile-dominated short attention span of the modern consumer.

Readers can get a quick summary of a story or dive deeper for context and analysis. It has quickly become a must-read for consumers, businesspeople, and journalists alike, providing trusted, non-partisan information about politics, media, technology, and business.

As VandeHei said on Tuesday night: "One thing we don’t need is more words in this world."

Here’s part of their manifesto: "All of us left cool, safe jobs to start a new company with this shared belief: Media is broken — and too often a scam.

"Stories are too long. Or too boring. Web sites are a maddening mess. Readers and advertisers alike are too often afterthoughts. They get duped by headlines that don't deliver and distracted by pop-up nonsense or unworthy clicks. Many now make money selling fake headlines, fake controversies and even fake news."

I don’t want to give too much publicity to a fellow media owner, even though it is not a direct rival, but I definitely like what Axios is doing and think it’s a model all of us can learn from.

What really makes VandeHei and Allen stand out for me is their pure passion, energy, and enthusiasm for the topics they cover, which illuminated the panel discussion. They also have that "insider" status that makes you think they’ve got pretty much anyone and everyone on speed dial.

Here are just a few quotes and anecdotes about President Trump that were revealed in their talk, which came the day after the President’s memorable press conference in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

VandeHei: "The press conference was one of the strangest most memorable moments ever.

"There aren’t two ways to look at Putin."

"Nobody around him has any clue what he’s going to do."

"He watches four to five hours of TV a day and has time blocked out in his calendar for it."

"He’d watch [former White House press secretary] Sean Spicer on TV in a side office to critique his performance, and the performance of the journalists."

"Trump has a perfect skill for identifying someone’s weakness then pounding away at it until he wins," citing "low energy" Jeb Bush and "sweaty, water-drinking, little" Marco Rubio as examples.

Allen: "Trump sees everything in cinematic terms. He’s the producer, director, star."

"Trump ‘hate watches’ Don Lemon on CNN at 10pm every night."

"Mark Cuban thinks of himself as the ‘good Trump’"

Most interestingly for PR pros, VandeHei ended by saying that, if he was a CEO, he would want his right-hand person to be a chief communications officer, which is something with which I’m sure all PRWeek readers can agree.

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